Communicate ≠ Communication ≠ Communicative Approach ≠ Comprehension

I thought it’d be helpful to go through some terms that seem to be used interchangeably. Why? The misunderstandings have an effect on pedagogical discussions, and there’s always room for reminders. So, communication, as defined by at least Sandra Savignon and Bill VanPatten, boils down to “the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning.” Each researcher added details like “within a given context, and “sometimes negotiation,” but the basic idea us teachers can focus on is in the three words, also conveniently picked up by ACTFL and keyed to their three modes: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.

  • Examples of interpreting Latin would include listening and reading. You can do this alone. It’s one-way (input).
  • Examples of negotiating in Latin would include some interaction, which isn’t necessarily spoken because you can respond in non-verbal ways, and you can also do this via writing, such as email correspondence. You can’t do this alone. It’s two-way (input + output).
  • Examples of expressing Latin would include writing or speaking. You can do this alone, such as when writing a story, or publicly speaking. It’s one-way (output). When giving a presentation, there are people there, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with them. Think lecture without follow-up, or better yet, think videos. TikTok videos are people expressing meaning. Of course, any follow-up would involve interaction, thus becoming interpersonal communication.

OK, those are very clear examples of communication from a second language perspective. However, when most people say that they “communicate” with others, that usually just means speaking, and maaaaaaybe writing. That is, the verb “communicate” is often synonymous with “talk,” and almost always suggests two-way interaction. That’s…fine…but we start running into problems when language teachers use the two interchangeably…

Continue reading

Independent Reading & Speaking Latin

I recently updated the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) to include ongoing Class Days and Culture Days. This provides more of a balance to the year without the previous “Unit 1/Unit 2” structure that each lasted approximately an entire semester. I also made sure to list independent reading as a key component. Yeah, I obviously have a stake in whether teachers build class libraries and include my books, but the whole reason I got into writing novellas in the first place is because I bought into the idea of independent reading tenfold…

Continue reading

Survey Says…Kids Like Self-Assessment! (et cētera)

Considering how impersonal the year felt, the responses from this end-of-year survey support an early prediction many of us had that learning and growth/development would take place this year after all, though certainly different from what we’ve expected in the past. To be clear, “learning loss” is a myth, and you should stop anyone trying to talk about that dead in their tracks. You simply cannot lose what you never had in the first place. It was a talking point used to get kids into schools ASAP, and nothing more. If students, or even just their learning were truly the priority, the conversation would be about improving living conditions for families at the societal level, as well as fully-funding our public schools.

Anyway, let’s start with the first question on my mind: grading. I’ve settled on the system after experience with a LOT of different ones, but what about students? The open-ended responses explaining what kind of grading students preferred are quite genuine. Scroll through the slideshow to see:

Continue reading

Bracey For NEA Director, Prep Time, & Prepped For 2021-22

I continue to claim that teachers have the most positive impact on learning when there’s ample time to reflect and prepare. It sounds basic, but this isn’t reality for most. Ideally, for every class hour taught, there should be at least 30min prep time, and bonus if it’s 1:1 (e.g. teach four classes, have four hours to plan, every day). This probably sounds insane, but only because most teachers have been working insane schedules. It’s unhealthy. Most teachers put up with the madness of something like one guaranteed prep period a day, etc., which leaves them kind of screwed if they teach more than one course, which is almost everyone, especially teachers of less-commonly taught languages (LCTL) who prep all levels as a department of one. No wonder there hasn’t been much innovation in education, there’s no time for it! The solution? First of all, teachers should streamline their practices so they don’t waste that precious time doing something like grading, or giving the same feedback over and over that students won’t read, or pretending their code system will make any difference. Beyond that, it takes adequate funding to hire more teachers. That should be a reasonable ask, and is just one of the many reasons why I’m supporting John Bracey as NEA Director in the runoff, who’s vying for fully-funded public schools in Massachusetts among other crucial fights. It’s ridiculous this even has to be part of any campaign at all, right? Fully-funded public education should be the unquestionable foundation of society, period. Vote Bracey. He’ll get that job done.

Anyway, I’ve finally made it to a point in my career where in these last weeks I get everything ready for the fall. I’ve been close to accomplishing that in the past, but there’s always been this August calendar event I set up that goes something like “read this, review that, create this, think about that,” yet there’s usually no time, even for someone like me hyperaware of prep time. Guess what? I already did all that stuff, and consolidated the ideas into this one post so the work is truly done to start 2021-22.

Posters
I sat in the middle of the room, looked around as if I were a student, and updated every poster that was hard to read. Really, what’s the point of having them if kids can’t see them?! Most are now on 11×17 at 120-pt font, with 80-pt English given below the Latin. Clarity is key, and so is comprehension. I’ll be pointing to these posters a LOT to establish meaning, and then even more when cuing it. I’ve also took down posters I couldn’t remember using. Some posters are nice in concept, but I’m just not gonna refer to fractions in Latin, etc. Also, I’ve redesigned my numbers, and put up my “who needs a boost” and “what would you like?” The latter are actually my first new practices I’ll have to be mindful of, which deserves a number, and bold color to draw attention when I check back in here come August. 1) Use Boosts & Quid velīs?

quālitātēs
Since the cognate list has grown to over 700 words, I updated quālitātēs to have *only* cognates, and dropped the English. There are 19 pages with about 160 words organized by positive, neutral, and negative adjectives. My plan is to show students how much Latin they probably already understand, while at the same time introduce English words not in their vocabulary. For example, diabolicum is just too good of a word to avoid using (any fans of The Boys out there?). I’m also going to use these lists more deliberately, like when we describe characters during storytelling. This is another new practice. 2) Use quālitātēs.

Password Now “Weekly Word(s)
This one’s simple. I used to stop students at the door requiring a rotating class password (but really for a quick check-in), and I wouldn’t let them in if they forgot the password. It was kinda fun except for when it wasn’t. The update is a reframing. No passwords, just weekly words now, but I’ll use the same words/phrases that went over well in the past. The very first one has always been “salvē!” which makes sense. However, I’m adding “…sum [___]” to the end so I get to hear how students pronounce their own name for a week. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this sooner!

DEA (Daily Engagement Agreements) Now “Look, Listen, Ask
The update to collecting gradebook evidence that now has a weekly focus on Look, Listen, and Ask means I won’t need to refer to these the way I used to. I’m not even gonna mention the word “rule.” Also, it’s a good thing I wrote about this, because I hadn’t made that Google Form yet. Check! 3) Use new form to collect gradebook evidence on focus areas.

TPR Wall
I’ve never really had much success with Total Physical Response, and haven’t been around students who like to act during collaborative storytelling either (i.e. so no TPRS for me). I’ve just removed all expectations (hopes?) for these things. It’s not the culture here. I’m not gonna force it. Therefore, I cleared up a whole wall that had TPR words, and moved the Look, Listen, and Ask posters over there.

Safety Nets
I’ve already written about this, but it’s worth a reminder that I won’t have to establish the routine.

Digital Fluency Write/Timed Write Form
I’ve been having students type Latin into a Google Form, then count up their words (responses from each class section all link to the same spreadsheet). It turns out there’s a formula =IF(C2=””,””,COUNTA(SPLIT(C2,” “))) that takes care of the counting. Drop it into a column in the spreadsheet, and you’re all set. Check out how close it comes to students counting one-by-one! I still review the student’s writing and adjust for only Latin words & names in that last column, but the formula skips the step of students counting—and miscounting—after writing.

Eval
I’ve been using timed writes for years to show growth. However, I haven’t been totally happy with the measurements used in the teacher evaluation goal setting. For example, if it’s by percentage, some students have increased their word count 1250%, while others by just 5%. If it’s by total word count, some students are writing 89 words, while others are still writing 10. If it’s by word increase, some students have written 74 more words than their first, and others just one or two. Regardless of the measurement, some students start writing a LOT right away, and don’t make much progress because most are just in that plateau of hanging out at Novice High or something. Therefore, I need a more variable goal that takes into account all these situations based on an average of the first three writing samples:

Under 10 will double.
10-30 will increase by 50%.
Over 30 will increase by 25%.

Also, I’ll have to get writing samples early on within a few weeks (not months) so I have a more accurate baseline. I’m also adding two new practices to help increase comprehension when reading, lead to acquisition, and result in higher output. These are alternating between 4) Code-switched Readings and Facing English in addition to full glossaries. Every text will include at least one of these three supports.

Activities
**Update: In particular, I’m gonna be sure to start with Card Talk Stories. This could be 4.5.** Due to remote teaching, I haven’t had much experience with a lot of things on my lists of input-based strategies & activities, and how to get texts. Therefore, I’m not ready to ditch any of them. Also, we’ll have more classes in what should be a more typical year, so I might need to draw from those lists to keep things novel. In particular, I’m thinking of varying reading activities considerably more. So, I’ll be sure to consult the lists when planning. 5) Check lists, weekly.

Syllabus/Learning Plan
For the first time ever in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to review the entire year’s class agendas! I thought I’d end up with a long list of activities and a rough sequence for the year, but no. First of all, I don’t plan more than a day or two in advance, and certainly not more than a week out. Second of all, it turns out I already did some of that work when creating my core practices! However, until I’m familiar with the whole teaching thing next fall—because I DO forget how to teach, every single year—I’ll make it a point to review all those practices: 6) Check out core practices, weekly. Still, looking back at the entire year’s class agendas was helpful. Hands down, I’m keeping “hodiē,” the one doc I open each day and work from, for organization (although I’ll be created a new Google Classroom assignment each week to better help students keep track). Here are some other routines and ideas I found from reviewing the agendas that I want to make sure I include next year:

  • A basic Talk & Read format to each class
  • Start class with date + something else to copy into notebook (statement, story, excerpt, etc.)
  • Use digital class libraries (only print for certain activities)
  • Build in time to read on own (since no more expectations of reading at home)
  • Occasional Flashcard Blitz
  • Brain Breaks
    • JUST a break…lap around school, etc.
    • Rock, Paper, Scissors
    • Higher/Lower prediction w/ cards
    • Which Would You Choose?
    • Fun Facts (but ask as if they were T/F)
  • Use general prompts during novella month (February)
  • Consider January a “reset,” spiraling back down to lower level texts & novellas
  • Do a 1-class CALP more often, and after each novella (poll students on some related topic from the book)

Blog Posts
Also a first in my career, I reviewed every blog post I wrote since last August. Here are various reminders and ideas that might influence the year to come:

Summary
So, here I am. There’s a LOT of stuff in this one post to review come August. After all, I plan to take a full summer break. No PD. No posts?! Maybe. Who knows, but having all my work done in order to set up next year’s success feels real good, and maybe the consolidated resources will help you, too.

Rethinking Safety Nets: Do We NEED Them?!

I was looking at some posters in my classroom last week and stopped at the Safety Nets signals (i.e. “unclear,” “write it,” and “too fast”). Honestly, I cannot recall the last time a student used them. I have no memory of the situation, or what year it was, and I have a pretty good memory. Is this stuff too pedantic for high school kids? Or worse, is it not culturally responsive? Yeah, maybe….

In reality, I’ve had one major safety net this entire time teaching communicatively: English (L1/native). That’s because I don’t pretend class should be exclusively in the target language. It doesn’t need to be, and maybe shouldn’t be in most contexts. Still, let’s say going full-immersion to near-immersion were just a neutral teacher preference. Well, I’ve never preferred it, even when I tried it. I did try it, too, having misunderstood “CI” teaching in the beginning to mean “speaking all the time”—a misunderstanding that persists with new teachers or new-to-CI teachers today. When I had a “no English rule,” there was always something nagging me about that role-play that didn’t quite sit well. I even have a short video used in grad school for the EdTPA requirement with students miming to each other attempting to express some basic idea because there was a “no English” rule. It’s downright embarrassing (no, I won’t share that vid, nice try), and proof of how ineffective something forced can be—whatever it is.

So in the classroom last week, it hit me: I’ve always used English to check comprehension (i.e. “what does X mean?”), even when there was some expectation of target language use (or even that old “no English” policing rule). So it follows…

  • Why have I been asking students to do anything different?!
  • Why do we need special signals students have to learn and be comfortable doing to show incomprehension?!
  • Why am I pretending I can’t tell when students have NO clue what’s going on?!

That last one is a striking reflection. I’m never surprised when something confuses students. I can literally see it, and I can even anticipate it. All I need is a perplexed look, blank stare, or “hey Mister, wait!” from the more outgoing ones. The more I think about it, the more I realize all of the safety nets meant to help slow-processing students actually just made it harder for the shy ones, forced to let all their classmates know they don’t get it. Our work as a staff regarding equity does make me question safety nets, too. Although the intention of making class more equitable from a comprehension standpoint by using signals makes sense, we gotta ask ourselves: Do these ever work? For everyone A short answer in the best contexts is “sure,” although I know that beyond the first week of classes or so, it became one of those routines that feel like work and just faded away—like the “Who?” student job that gets old real fast! The safety net thing might be something teachers do well during demos. However, demos are great for convincing teachers to use best practices when teachers can *feel* like a student again. Safety nets might also work really well when teachers participate as students in demos or beginner language classes. However, teachers tend to have about 8,000% more interest and motivation than your typical student. In sum, we know that demos and the teacher-as-student experience aren’t always the best contexts for modelling what we do with students in our own classrooms, so keep that in mind!

So, goodbye safety nets!

Compelling Diversions: “Who needs a Boost?” and “What would you like, today?

The longer I teach, the more I pull back the curtain, becoming more transparent with students in the room, and better-aligning my practices with core principles. An understanding of communicative purpose has really helped me eliminate some of the charades you tend to see everywhere. For example, what once began as reading textbook passages designed to teach a specific grammar point has now become me outright saying “today, we’re gonna learn about some grammar” (i.e. learning). No veil. Texts are now read for enjoyment (i.e. entertainment), or learning about the target culture (i.e. learning). Any collaborative storytelling or Write & Discuss (Type & Talk) results in texts (i.e. creating), though the process is often enjoyable (i.e. entertainment), and focuses on some topic (i.e. learning). Those three classroom communicative purposes: entertainment, learning, and creating, have all led to great buy-in and trust. The longer I teach, there’s just no need for any of the role-play and ruse within the classroom reality.

Well, it’s that time of the year when I get ideas on what to improve upon or do differently next fall. In particular, I’ve got my eye on a couple new transparent routines that are best established right from the start…

Read More

TPRS, etc. & Interaction: Required

Here’s a quick note about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and other collaborative storytelling methods and strategies…

They require interaction.

This has become painfully obvious to me after teaching on Zoom for over a year in a public high school, where responses to polls are few, participation is low, and circling is next to impossible in most contexts (unless you happen to have surprisingly high levels of participation). I mean, we can certainly fake circling by doing something similar via those polls and chat, but it moves a LOT slower than that in-person question after question pace complete with reading the room (i.e. “teach to eyes” etc.). On Zoom, the process gets bogged down. That’s not circling. The point of circling is to give students a massive amount of exposure to a small set of words by asking many different questions that students can answer without hesitation. It’s actually the answering of questions that’s so key, not only to keep an eye on who might be getting lost (and then ask “what does X mean?” comprehension check), but also to get the details you ask for, as well as the surprise responses that can take the story in an unexpected yet highly compelling turn. Hence, interaction.

Yet “interaction” can be woefully misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean full-on conversations. That’s not what we need with collaborative storytelling at all. We need to provide students messages in the target language via a process that might feel ad nauseam to us, but is probably just enough (or maybe not quite enough!) for the beginner. That’s happens from questions, statements, and then restating everything that happens.

THAT kind of interaction is crucial. Other types of interaction might occur, or even prove to be beneficial in certain cases, especially in other activities, but without student responses during collaborative storytelling—not just the ones that get details—we got nothing.

Core Practices

I got thinking about what I’d say my core practices were if anyone wanted to learn more about CI and get an overview of what comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) looks like. Would it be a list of 10? Could I get that down to five? Might it be better to prioritize some practices like the top 5, 8, and 16 verbs (i.e. quaint quīnque, awesome octō, and sweet sēdecim)? Would I go specific, with concrete activities? Or, would I go broad and global, starting with principles and ideas?

I highly recommend that you do this just as an exercise during a planning period this week, making a quick list of your core practices. Doing so required me to sort out a few things in the process, and helped organize and align my practices to certain principles. Of course, terms and definitions can get tricky, here. I just saw that Reed Riggs and Diane Neubauer refer to “instructional activities (IA),” which covers a lot of what goes on in the classroom. It’s a good term. I’m using “practices” in a similar way to refer to many different methods, strategies, techniques, and activities that all fall under a CCLT approach, as well as general “teacher stuff” I find to be core as well.

Another reason for this post is that I’ve seen the “CI umbrella” graphic shared before, but that doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of things. Rather than practices falling under a CI umbrella, I envision CI instead as the result of practices under the umbrella of CCLT. I also consider such an approach a defense against incomprehensibility—the first obstacle that needs to be removed—and I thought a more aggressive graphic of a “CI shield” might best represent that.

Here’s the first line of core practice defense:

Continue reading

Methods & Results: To What Do We Attribute Success?

Not every teacher shares how well their students are doing—probably out of fear of being criticized—and I don’t blame them one bit. This data is often kept under lock and key, so it’s hard to get a sense of whether all the talk amounts to something. SPOILER ALERT: it does. The reports I’ve seen on how well students have been doing under a…NOT…grammar-translation approach tend to attribute success in different ways, though. Today, I’m looking at two such programs to see if we can narrow down what contributes success:

Program 1:

  • 69% of Latin V students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • Uses LLPSI (Lingua Latina per se Illustrata)
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat) when students ask
  • CI is necessary, but not sufficient for acquisition
  • Extensive interaction is most important

Program 2:

  • 64% of Latin IV students score Intermediate Mid (I4+) on ALIRA
  • Focus on reading
  • Translation of what is understood (vs. in order to understand)
  • No textbook
  • Uses novellas & other sources of input
  • Speaks Latin whenever possible (i.e. judicious use of English)
  • Establishes meaning in English (i.e. fēlēs = cat)
  • CI is necessary, and sufficient for acquisition
  • Interaction is important

The results are very close by the end of each program, and there’s definitely more in common than not, but what isn’t in common makes for differently-enough teaching and learning environments. Both are just as successful, but what can we attribute that success to? Let’s look into those differences a bit more…

Continue reading